WATSONVILLE — It’s approximately 55 miles from Monte Vista Christian School to the San Jose Municipal Stadium, where this Saturday's Central Coast Section D-III Finals will take place.
Mustangs coach Don Keathley had a set of team wristbands made that read, “55 Miles to Muni."
The players have worn them since January — a month before the start of their season.
“That’s what the focus has been,” Keathley said. “That’s where we’ve wanted to be the whole year.”
MVC punched its ticket to the CCS Finals to play against No. 5 The King's Academy at Excite Ballpark, formerly known as San Jose Municipal Stadium.
First pitch is set for 4 p.m.
Now it’s time to finish what the No. 3-seeded Mustangs started in January.
“We knew that we had some good ball players and that’s where we wanted to play,” Keathley said. “That’s the ultimate goal.
It’s the Mustangs’ second title-game appearance in school history, and first time back since losing to Palma in the D-III Finals in 2009, which Keathley coached in.
The Mustangs defeated No. 2 Menlo School, 7-5, in 11 innings on Thursday at Washington Park in Santa Clara.
Keathley said it was a rollercoaster ride full of emotions throughout, especially with the thought of moves and position changes.
“They’re smart kids that when you teach them some stuff and they work on it in practice, they just execute,” Keathley said.
Monte Vista Christian baseball coach Don Keathley had custom wristbands made for the team back in January. (Contributed by Don Keathley)
MVC junior Quinn Alexander went 2-for-5 with two RBIs in the semifinals. He was named the winning pitcher after he threw four innings, recorded a strikeout, allowed four walks and an earned run.
“Quinn (Alexander) just kept chucking it and didn’t get down,” Keathley said. “We always like to tell our pitchers that when guys hit balls that far it’s because they throw as hard as they do.”
Keathley said the eighth inning got intense with a bases loaded and no outs situation.
The Mustangs coach decided to go with five infielders and the defense made a play on a squeeze bunt attempt.
Junior Tyler Keenan went 2-for-4 with a double and three runs scored.
The Mustangs had a 3-0 lead going into the fifth inning, but the Knights tied it at 3-all in the bottom of the frame.
The score remained tied until the Mustangs took the lead for good by adding two runs in the top of the 11th to make it 7-5.
Keathley said he was exhausted after the hard-fought battle.
But he also stayed after the game to watch the Mustangs’ next opponent, the Knights, who defeated top-seeded Pacific Grove in the other semifinal.
The King’s Academy is the returning D-III champion after getting past St. Francis High-Watsonville last year.
“(The Knights) are aggressive, they put the ball in play, they play great defense,” Keathley said. “I’ve got to do a little research of my own tonight. We saw their No. 1 (Matt Wilson) throw yesterday and he can really, really hit, also.”
Keathley said now it’s all about giving the kids any kind of mental advantage, including instilling a belief that they can win it all.
“Part of our job as coaches is we have to get them in the right place mentally to where they’re constantly telling themselves, ‘I can win the game,’” Keathley said.
Monte Vista Christian junior Matt Woods and the rest of the crew will try to capture the school's first Central Coast Section baseball title on Saturday against The King's Academy. — Juan Reyes/Register-Pajaronian
Plus, the Mustangs were probably more motivated than usual going into Thursday’s game against Menlo.
Keathley said a story in The Daily Journal of San Mateo may have ruffled a couple of the players’ feathers.
The story read Menlo was “among the hottest teams in CCS, while MVC is on the other end of the spectrum.”
“Right now, the playoffs is all about everything above the shoulders. These guys can all play,” Keathley said.
Prior to Thursday’s semifinals game, the Daily Journal reported Menlo had won 15 of its last 19 games, while “MVC, on the other hand, limped into the playoffs.”
The Mustangs began the season on a hot streak by going 7-1, but struggled over the final 10 games going just 3-7.
MVC has now won two straight playoff games, including the win against Menlo, and is in position to win the program’s first section championship.
“League championships are great but we always have just focused on the playoffs,” Keathley said.
Keathley said part of keeping the players mentally prepared also means teaching them how to dogpile correctly and visualize what it’s going to feel like to win.
“We want them to anticipate that and look forward to that moment,” he said.